Nutrition and health experts have been promoting healthy eating for years, and an important part of this diet often includes fish. In addition to being an excellent source of lean protein, fish is high in omega-3 fatty acids, which are believed to have a number of healthful qualities, including the reduction of a person's risk for heart disease, stroke, and cancer.

Now included in that list of health benefits is the possible protection from dementia and Alzheimer's disease. In a recent study, researchers found that people who at fish, either baked or broiled, on a regular basis each week, appeared to reduce their risk for dementia and Alzheimer's disease. The health of the neural tissue was determined by MRI scans of areas affected by Alzheimer's disease. The study is the first of its kind to suggest a direct link between consumption of fish and brain structure and Alzheimer's disease.

In the study in question, scientists looked at 260 healthy individuals and gathered information about their diets, particularly in relation to how much fish they consumed. Of the total group, 163 people at fish on a weekly basis, and within this sub-group, a majority of them consumed fish one to four times per week.

Every subject in the group underwent 3D volumetric MRI scans of their brains at the beginning of the study (baseline) and 10 years later. Researchers then employed a special brain mapping technique known as Voxel-based morphometry to measure the volume of gray matter in specific regions. This information was then used to deduce a relationship, if any, between fish consumption and structural brain changes over time.

What they found was that regular fish consumption was in fact associated with gray matter volume preservation in several areas of the brain, including the greater hippocampal, posterior cingulate, and orbital frontal cortex, reducing the risk for certain forms of dementia. Eating baked or broiled fish seemed to strengthen neurons by making them larger and healthier.

Scientists also observed increased levels of cognition, whereby people in the fish eating group displayed better short-term memories, helping them to focus on tasks and remember things, even when age, gender, lifestyle, and education were factored in. Eating fried fish was not shown to have any of the same health benefits.

The findings are significant because the volume of gray matter in the brain is strongly associated with neural health. When the volume of gray matter remains high, it is a sign that the brain is healthy, while decreases in the volume indicate that brain cells are shrinking. Decreases in gray matter volume are also potential indicators of an increase in the risk for dementia and Alzheimer's disease.

Alzheimer's disease is a progressive brain disorder with no known cure. The condition slowly destroys a person's memory and cognitive abilities. It has been estimated that as many as 5.1 million Americans have some form of Alzheimer's disease.

Before modifying your diet or consuming more fish, speak with your doctor or a nutritional expert. For more information about the benefits of a healthy diet, visit the website for American Heart Association. To learn more about dementia and Alzheimer's disease, visit the website for the National Library of Medicine.